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Richard Dawkins' Hollywood Delusion

Because critical thinking gossip is the real saviour of humankind.
June 24, 2014
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[Expanded from a Facebook post.]

In the interest of keeping an open mind I recently reread Richard Dawkins' bestseller The God Delusion—a work that purports to prove that Christ-centered worldviews like mine are "deluded." Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and emeritus fellow at Oxford. Until 2008 he was Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science, and in 2006 founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. "Critical thinking," he tells us at his foundation’s website, "is the real saviour of humankind" (Dawkins, 2014). Given his impressive CV and commitment to scientific acumen I was expecting a thoughtful and well researched argument—enough so that I felt the book was worth two reads in search of one. What I found instead was an intellectual train wreck. A hubris-laden diatribe that will no doubt inspire (and inflame) those who share Dawkins’ ideological animosities, but be unconvincing to anyone properly trained in the relevant subjects. Its errors and inconsistencies are far too numerous to be addressed in a single essay, and others have already cleaned up a lot of the mess elsewhere (Craig, 2009; Feser, 2010; Jinn, 2014 to name a few) so I won’t attempt to here.

However this time through I came across something I hadn’t noticed in my first reading that most reviewers seem to have missed as well—something far too revealing to let pass without comment. On page 270 we find the following,

"In 2005, the fine city of New Orleans was catastrophically flooded in the aftermath of a hurricane, Katrina. The Reverend Pat Robertson, one of America's best-known televangelists and a former presidential candidate, was reported as blaming the hurricane on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans. You'd think an omnipotent God would adopt a slightly more targeted approach to zapping sinners..." (Dawkins, 2008)

A check of the accompanying footnote reveals his source to be none other than Dateline Hollywood (2005)—a gossip spoof site similar to The Onion. He then goes on to say,

"It is unclear whether the story... is true. Whether true or not, it is widely believed, no doubt because it is entirely typical of utterances by evangelical clergy, including Robertson on disasters such as Katrina." (Dawkins, 2008)

In support of this further claim he cites a Sept. 2005 article from Emediawire, which when I checked it redirected to the Duval County, FL. Public Schools website without returning any content about the alleged incident. He also cites an article at the Snopes urban legend site which clearly states that the story was false (!) and makes reference to Dateline Hollywood’s claim to have originated in 360 BC as "Gladiators Weekly” (Snopes, 2005). Now to a more careful investigator statements like these would raise a few flags. Dawkins however chooses to steer carefully past all of this preferring instead to look for more dirt on Robertson from one of the article’s sources.

Now for the record I'm no fan of Robertson—Heaven knows he's made his share of inane statements over the years, including many that were every bit as bad as this one. But I also know Dawkins well enough to know that perhaps I'd better check just how "unclear" the truth of that statement really is for myself... especially after a display of "scholarship" like this. So I did... and surprise, surprise. It took me around 3 minutes or so to verify from multiple sources that it is in fact an urban legend (Wikipedia, 2014; Snopes, 2005; Argetsinger & Roberts, 2006). That's 3 minutes... roughly the time that it takes my 12-year-old to heat up some Kraft EZ Mac-N-Cheese for lunch.

So let me get this straight... It make no difference whether a slanderous statement about a prominent evangelical is even true, because all Christians are gullible and believe whatever their pastors tell them anyway...


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